Outlawing Legal Self-Help

February 19, 1999

In Texas, federal Judge Barefoot Sanders has moved to outlaw a software program called Quicken Family Lawyer which helps people fill out their own legal documents. In a case brought by a group of lawyers, Sanders ruled that the program violates laws that bar anyone but licensed lawyers from giving legal advice.

The group HALT -- also known as Americans for Legal Reform -- estimates that if Americans were free to use paralegals, instead of lawyers, to handle routine legal matters, they could save $3.3 billion a year.

  • Rather than spending $821 million a year to hire lawyers to prepare wills, Americans would only have to shell out $176 million for the services of paralegals -- for a total savings of $645 million.
  • Having a licensed lawyer handle divorces costs Americans $1.15 billion a year versus $307 million in paralegal costs -- which would save $843 million.
  • Filing for bankruptcy using lawyers costs $2.025 billion for services which paralegals would charge only $225 million for -- a $1.8 billion premium.

The few studies comparing the performance of lawyers with layperson specialists have all found about equal performance in non-courtroom settings. In fact, a 1990 California state bar survey actually found people more satisfied with lay practitioners than lawyers.

Source: Editorial, "Public Loses as Lawyers Block Access to Cheaper Legal Help," USA Today, February 19, 1999.

 

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